Once a hot career choice, the law turns cold

Perhaps it’s not that surprising that young people don’t want to be lawyers anymore.

The American Bar Association says that only 60 percent of the people who graduated law school in 2015 have jobs in the legal business. That statistic is contained in a New York Times story on the University of Minnesota’s effort to cut the number of admissions to its law school.

It’s an unusual move, the Times says, because many law schools increase admissions to reap tuition rewards.

But it doesn’t address the deeper mystery: With one of the top-ranked law schools in the country, why has Minnesota had one of the steepest declines in applicants among the top-20 law schools?

In the Great Lakes and Midwest region, the dire outlook for legal education has been magnified by the sheer number of accredited law schools. Minnesota and Indiana each have four, and Ohio has nine. The region’s rapidly aging population and the loss of its traditional manufacturing activity have eroded an economic base that could support a “strongly upwardly mobile middle class of the kind that sustains high-level educational activity,” David Barnhizer, a professor emeritus at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, wrote in a March research paper.

“Virtually all law schools across the U.S. pumped too many lawyers into a system that was already filled to the brim and now is overflowing,” Mr. Barnhizer said in an interview.

He warned that the region’s lesser-ranked law schools – he did not include Minnesota in that group – will “simply wither away” as fewer students seek admission.

Insert your obvious lawyer joke here if you must, but there’s a problem if the best and brightest young people have turned away from the law.

Three-quarters of the first-year students at the Minnesota school are from out of state. But more than half of its graduates stay here, the Times says.

“People are turned off on legal education because of a lack of suitable paying jobs,” Walter Mondale said. “I don’t think you can underestimate the havoc that these law school debts can cause.”

The school’s dean is leaving for a job in New York. Garry W. Jenkins, a law professor from Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, was named yesterday to replace him.